Addressing the Challenges of Social Media in a Global Market

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Article ImageSocial media has provided us with a world with no boundaries and has allowed small companies to dream of having a global reach. But, along with opportunities come challenges-chief among them is navigating the tricky terrain of communication and social differences in diverse geographies.

In 2010, Buddy Media, Inc., a New York City-based software-as-a-service company that works with some of the top global advertisers, conducted a study that looked at the gap between the perceived potential of global social media and the actual level of achievement. The survey of 105 Fortune 1000 brand managers was conducted by Harris Interactive, Inc. While 72% of respondents indicated that social media offers great opportunity to reach existing and potential customers around the world, they also indicated that they were lacking the tools and information necessary to leverage global social media effectively.

According to the study, when using social media on an international basis to reach customers in local geographic markets, the biggest obstacles faced were tracking or measuring success (48%), managing and maintaining information (45%), engaging audiences (42%), identifying influencers who can carry the brand message (39%), and keeping regional and country-specific content fresh (32%).

In 2012, Buddy Media conducted a study specifically related to social media marketing in Asia-Pacific, "The State of Social Media Marketing in Asia-Pacific," which indicated that social spending is expected to increase significantly over the next 2 years. It also noted that social media is not new to most brands and agencies in the region-nearly 75% of the respondents indicated they had social marketing programs in place at their companies for more than 1 year; Facebook is the most-used social network (almost 90%), followed by Twitter (66%) and YouTube (62%); mobile is emerging as a key means of connecting with consumers; more than 80% of respondents indicated that they considered mobile strategy important for social media marketing.

Even for marketers without a significant global presence, global issues may emerge. For those operating in global markets, regardless of how small the scale, the issue obviously becomes more immediate.

"Basically, social media is global," says Joe Ciarallo, Buddy Media's vice president of communications. "Brands can't be shortsighted and think about their U.S. audience only." Buddy Media's advice for global brand managers: Think globally-act locally. Others agree.

Avoiding the Land Mines of Global Communication

Becky Carroll teaches social media at the University of California-San Diego and is the social media correspondent for NBC 7 in San Diego. She is the author of The Hidden Power of Your Customers: Four Keys to Growing Your Business Through Existing Customers (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011). "The growth and popularity of social media presents a unique opportunity for businesses to grow their brands globally, but there are several land mines that need to be navigated in order to ensure a successful global campaign," says Carroll. These land mines, she says, include language translation, time zone differences, and varying global trends.

Language barriers: "Your message needs to resonate with your audience, so assigning in-country managers of your social media is essential," says Carroll, referring to a best practice that others also emphasize. "Not only will an in-country manager ensure proper language use, they are also more likely to notice cultural sensitivities and nuances in socially shared text and images. If an in-country manager is not feasible, partner with a language service provider that can provide translation services."

Time zone dilemmas: "Effective social media campaigns operate in real time," notes Carroll. "For a business looking to expand globally, this means having the communication lines open all day, every day. Whether discussing promotions, contests, or any other conversation about your company, it is important that you engage with customers in real time as much as possible."

Global trends: "To make your global social media strategy more personal and appealing, it is important to relate and localize content to an in-country audience," says Carroll. "It is also important to note that people in different countries share and relate to different kinds of content-one country may relate more to blogs, while another may be more interested in video or photo sharing. They also use different social media platforms. Understand what type of content is relevant to your audience, and build that into your social media strategy."

The greatest challenges, though, says Ciarallo, are organizational-he recommends avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach. "You have to speak to people at the right time and the right place in their language, both literally and figuratively," he says.

In truth, social media doesn't really represent new challenges to global marketers-just more of the same, says John Strabley, director of strategy with Quaero, a customer engagement agency based in Charlotte, N.C. Language, time zone, and global trends have impacted global communicators for years. Advertising internationally has always presented challenges for marketers attempting to convey messages through multiple channels and to consumers in multiple cultures and countries who speak multiple languages. Communicating through social media is simply more of the same.

Ciarallo agrees. "Think about a large brand that wants to do TV globally and how many media companies they have to work with. It takes a lot of people; it's very complex."

Still, somehow the challenges seem different.

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